Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Travels with the TBR #1-Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone, Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit, Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

With the new frustration of a lengthy bus journey now extending my working day, I realised that this actually presents a great opportunity to catch up on some of the 150+ books in my to-be-read pile, alongside new releases. Here are the first three books in a regular series of posts…

bjorkWhen the body of a young girl is found hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. In response, police investigator Holger Munch is immediately charged with assembling a special homicide unit. But to complete the team, he must track down his former partner, Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective – who has retreated to a solitary island with plans to kill herself. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s fingernail: the number 1. She knows that this is only the beginning. To save other children from the same fate, she must find a way to cast aside her own demons and stop this murderer from becoming a serial killer…

To be honest, I usually have a slight aversion to thrillers that are constructed so whole-heartedly on the use of coincidence, and moments of sheer implausibility but I’m Travelling Alone managed effectively to keep me in its thrall from start to finish, despite my reservations…

Starting with the characterisation of detective Mia Kruger, the archetypal troubled individual, seemingly intent on ending her life and existing on a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs, that would keep most stout-hearted folks from functioning on any kind of level, she proves herself an empathetic and multi-faceted character. Having so roundly criticised other authors for using this foil before, Kruger’s journey from intense psychological bleakness to her reluctant involvement in a particularly dark murder investigation,  Bjork manages to overcome the reader’s initial scepticism regarding her character, and she was, for me, the reason to keep those pages turning. Likewise, her boss, the shuffling and put-upon Holger Munch, with his nefarious familial problems, conforms to some stereotypical character traits, and the coincidence of him being the father of a six-year old daughter, the age of the murder victims, did toy with the credibility of the reader too. However, for the necessity of the final denouement of the plot, it was understandable that Bjork had to travel this path, and Munch and Kruger, prove themselves an effective team despite their vastly different approaches to their work, and this particular investigation.

I thought the central murder investigation with the trademark Scandinavian darkness was well played out, drawing in themes of religious fanaticism, and I always enjoy a book that points the finger at the supposedly superior state of grace that accompanies those who hold religion dear. In the rural backwoods there are shown to be dark forces at work, leading to a pacey and gripping conclusion to what is a convoluted but nonetheless intriguing investigation for Munch and Kruger, despite a rather clumsy plot twist involving Kruger herself. I’m Travelling Alone is not without fault, but has enough hooks and tricks to hold its appeal throughout, and to entice this reader to read the next in the series. Recommended.

new-rabbitTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, Karen and Sean risk losing all they hold precious…

First of all, big kudos to Helen Cadbury, for introducing us in to the world of the Police Community Support Officer, a role oft neglected in the consciousness of not only the British public, but also in the world of crime writing. I immediately liked Sean Denton, with his charming mix of at times wide-eyed innocence, underscored by his strong sense of morality and his determination to see justice served for the victim. This combination of traits that Cadbury instils in his character is absolutely central to the manipulation of the reader’s empathies throughout, and also gives Cadbury scope to show how far Denton progresses professionally in the course of this thorny and sensitive investigation. I also liked the comparison we see in Denton’s character between his professionalism and intuitiveness when donning the uniform, and his hesitant and quite frankly clumsy efforts in matters of the heart. By so effectively balancing these two sides of her central protagonist, you feel as a reader a truthfulness and authenticity to the character, which enhances your reading pleasure. Similarly with the character of Karen Friedman, we encounter a woman who is doggedly searching for answers regarding her brother’s disappearance, and Cadbury takes time to push the boundaries of Karen’s character, drawing her into a criminal world, and testing her resolve as a professional, working at a migrant’s advice centre, and as a wife and mother. Cadbury really puts Karen through the wringer, but never to the point of incredulity, and I found her a particularly likeable character. Her husband, though, has less to recommend him…snake in the grass.

Drawing on the sensitive subject of immigration in the UK , Cadbury keeps a balance and fairness in her portrayal of this subject throughout, without the mealy-mouthed hand-wringing liberalism, that tends to afflict modern British fiction. Cadbury presents the desperation and exploitation of the immigrant community with an almost detached air of realism, that makes their plight all the more affecting, and allows her readers to be gently drawn into to the salient plot-lines that focus on this, while keeping solidly within the bounds of objectivity. This thought-provoking, and extremely well delineated plot carries the book along to a gripping conclusion, with many moments of tension along its way.

Hence, To Catch A Rabbit neatly straddles the bounds of crime thriller and police procedural punctuated by the  feel of contemporary social fiction. Am already eyeing up the second instalment, Bones In The Nest, in my to-be-read pile. Highly recommended.

sheersAfter the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters. The friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a devastating event changes all their lives, and Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a terrible secret.

Okay so not strictly speaking a crime book, but is billed to possess ‘a dark psychological edge’ and have heard comments glowingly positive, and exceedingly negative about this one. I will concede that  the first half of this book held me firmly in its tentacles, and flipping the action from the leafy London suburbs to heat scorched America and the military storyline, I Saw A Man was shaping up to be a terrific read. I was genuinely drawn into the grief-filled world of Michael, and the pernicious military action that had caused his wife’s death. I was also enjoying the intriguing build up of tension as Michael made his way through a neighbour’s house one hot summer’s day, and had even mange to overcome my working class aversion to posh people who do fencing, and my dislike of the name Josh.  And then within two pages it lost me. Totally. With one of the weakest plot contrivances I have encountered for many a year, this formerly well-written and engaging book, waved goodbye to the Raven, as the writing became overwhelmingly overwritten, and any previously held empathy disappeared in a flurry of florid prose. I read the last two chapters to confirm my suspicions at how this tortured storyline would play out. And it did. Oh dear…










Blog Tour- Michael J. Malone- Guest Post- Telling Lies… #ASuitableLie

61dbwwdzzpl-_ux250_Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour, marking the release of Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie, a sensitive and suspenseful psychological thriller. Here’s a guest post from the man himself, talking about truth, lies, and how both have influenced his latest book…

“While doing book signings for the release of my latest novel, A Suitable Lie I have met some amazing people and have had some very interesting conversations. One of them got me thinking about my writing process. The conversation went like this…

‘So you tell lies for a living then?’ She arched an eyebrow and offered a half-smile.

“Well…’ I began and wondered if she was looking down on me, or looking up to me. ‘You could say that.’

Fair enough. Professional liar, that’s me. I spend hours making stuff up and let me tell you it’s great fun.

a-suitable-lieHowever if I didn’t also include truth, the lies wouldn’t be quite so convincing. Every character I write about, I write about them in a manner that is true to them. Their actions and reactions are completely true to the person I find them to “be”.

I work at finding the truth of my characters’ emotions. How do they feel and why do they feel it? I hitch on to that and you, the reader (hopefully) take up their cause. Then for the crime writer those other truths are required. Whodunnit and more importantly in my view, why they did it.

That is particularly true of novels where I am dealing with sensitive subjects, as I do in my latest novel, A Suitable Lie. Being a victim of domestic abuse must be one of the grimmest situations one could find oneself in. Your home should be where you feel the safest, not where the threat is the most grave. And when I found myself writing about a couple in that scenario I worked hard to be sure I did so with sensitivity, but above all, with truth. Because if not, why bother?

I might be telling a story through the prism of crime fiction, but in the end it is all about the people we meet within the pages. Like you, I’m fascinated by other human beings and what makes them tick, and in my humble opinion no genre gets to the heart of this more than crime fiction. We are all people-watchers, surely? And writers are probably guiltier of that than others. As Flannery O’Connor said, “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

The trick, is to leave yourself out of it. How often have you read something where it reads like the author is venting? Where you are pushed out of the story while thinking, who’s talking here? The character or the author? And that’s where I bring you back to A Suitable Lie and presenting the truth and the lie of the situation with honesty and without judgement.

So, hands up. I make up lies and give them a core of honesty. And as all the best fibbers know, the most convincing lies are the ones that stick most closely to the truth.”


Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:


Teaser No. 3… Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones + Exclusive Extract



Exclusive extract from My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

“I carefully climb up onto the chair and stand looking into next-door’s garden. The noise has stopped and there is nothing there but an empty washing line and a pair of old wellington boots lying by an overgrown rockery. The shed is in darkness.

‘Hearing things again,’ I tell myself as I climb down from the seat, but just as my feet touch the ground the noise starts again, this time louder and more frantic, and it is coming from beyond the fence.

I scramble back on to the chair and peer over. And then my heart flips inside my chest.

There, in the window of the shed, is a face.”





Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it . . . and make it out alive?


Advance reviews for My Sister’s Bones:

‘Compelling and intriguing, right from the very first page’ (Sharon Bolton, Sunday Times bestselling author of Like This, For Ever)

Gripping and beautifully written, My Sister’s Bones is a tense, atmospheric, deliciously dark story (Amanda Jennings)

A stunning book. I was drawn in by Nuala Ellwood’s hypnotic, haunting and elegant prose. Compelling, unsettling and powerful this is a book that will stay with me for a long time’ (C. L. Taylor)

Loved I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors? My Sister’s Bones is guaranteed to be this year’s most twisty and twisted read – you’ll never see what’s coming! (Ava Marsh, author of UNTOUCHABLE)

‘Ellwood’s protagonist Kate is a female hero in the best sense, flawed but brave. Very quickly you are sucked into her fragile, damaged world, until you no longer know what is real or imaginary’ (Helen Callaghan, author of DEAR AMY)

This book is amazing – harrowing and compelling…a clever plot that twists right to the very end (Luana Lewis)

An accomplished and page-turning thriller…it’s impossible to guess where it’s going next’ (Nicholas Searle)



It’s Teaser Time…Steph Broadribb- Deep Down Dead

stephToday I am joining the official countdown to the release of Steph Broadribb’s debut novel DEEP DOWN DEAD. In her blogging guise as Crime Thriller Girl we have come to know. and love her wide- ranging and incisive crime reviews, and are on tenterhooks to see what her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead has in store. Yes, we’re all pretty excited…

Here’s a quote…

“Me and JT together were like gasoline and fire. Intensely hot, but impossible to control. And when we did partner up, the people I cared for died. This time, I knew for damn sure, I could not let that happen.”

Want to know more?…

Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.

And just hit this link to pre-order…

DEEP DOWN DEAD by Steph Broadribb is published by Orenda Books. It will be released on 15th October 2016.



Blog Tour- Agnes Ravatn- The Bird Tribunal

birdTV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough…

Aside from my fixation on crime fiction, my other reading pleasure comes from the lure of bijou contemporary fiction in translation, so was pretty sure that Agnes Ravatn’s compact Norwegian thriller would tick many boxes…

From the outset we are completely immersed in the suffocating claustrophobia and changes of tension that exist in the relationship between Allis Hagtorn and her new employer, the mercurial and distant Sigurd Bagge. Almost instantly I was reminded of one of my favourite books, Embers by Sandor Marai, that is built on the discourse between two characters, and the revelations from the past that come to light. To sustain the reader’s interest with such a compressed cast of characters is always a difficult task, and having read other books that have spectacularly failed in this respect, Ravatn stood tall. Using the dual protagonist structure, with only the intermittent appearance of a local shopkeeper, the reader is anchored firmly in the lives of both Allis and Sigurd, and witness to the unfolding details and changing parameters of their relationship, as if viewing them on a stage with the reader as the single audience member. It’s beautifully done.

As Ravatn slowly reveals the emotionally charged and turbulent details of both character’s back stories, where we are, in common with Allis, slightly on the back foot, she weaves a story laden with myth, guilt and undulating emotions. By incorporating the essence of myth, and the consistent references to the changeability of nature, our sense of reality is manipulated, and sometimes the writing attains a dreamlike quality, affecting our perception of Allis and Sigurd and their true natures and intentions. In common with Patricia Highsmith, and early Ruth Rendell, Ravatn ramps up the psychological tension and underlying menace, and I liked the allusion to another seminal work of English fiction, which would act as too much of a spoiler if I was to mention it here. The writing, and the dialogue, in particular is clipped and measured, and every sentence seems to exist under the weight of precise authorial intention. No word or image is wasted.

When you encounter a book like this with its unique intensity, it does return to your thoughts now and again. That to me is a sign of a good book and The Bird Tribunal more than fits the description. It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between. Not forgetting the flawless translation by Rosie Hedger too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda for the ARC)

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:


September 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Apologies again for being so off the pace in providing fulsome reviews during September,  due to a period of personal and professional  upheaval in  Raven’s world. Thanks to all of you who’ve sent lovely messages of support- much appreciated. Things are still a little up in the air, but having recovered my reading mojo in the last couple of weeks, I am going to use this post to catch up with everything and hopefully come bouncing back into October. So along with these:

William Ryan- The Constant Soldier

Sarah Ward- A Deadly Thaw

Thomas Mullen- Darktown

here are just a few more of my September reads that you really must seek out for your teetering reading piles. Hope that these short and sweet reviews pique your interest… 

51v0u7ucipl-_ac_us160_I reviewed Matthew Frank‘s compelling debut If I Should Die last year featuring ex-soldier turned trainee police detective, Joseph Stark, and was absolutely enthralled. Between The Crosses sees Stark having cut his teeth, so to speak, and is now a fully badged DC, with a reprisal of police characters from the first book, including the wonderfully feisty DS Fran Millhaven. Again, Frank provides the perfect balance between a gritty and tense police procedural, with a testing investigation for Stark and his cohorts, and his faultless characterisation of Stark himself, haunted physically and emotionally by his past experiences, and the travails and triumphs of his new career. Frank really digs into the day-to-day frustrations of the rank and file in this one, and I strongly felt that the aspects of the book revolving around Stark and Millhaven’s personal and professional tribulations really held the weight of interest in the book, with the actual investigation feeling a little drawn out this time around. Frank excels in his characterisation throughout, and as the parameters of both main protagonists subtly shift at the close of this book, I am looking forward to see how this plays out in the dynamics of the next in the series. Highly recommended.

41a-DHkeVXLI bought this deliciously dark and disturbing read blind, and what a revelation Benjamin MyersTurning Blue turned out to be. A glorious mash up of the staccato darkness of David Peace, fused with Ross Raisin, this book was not only utterly original, but infused with a beautifully realised balance of naturalistic imagery, and a totally compelling tale of sordid murder in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Drawing on the theme of the infamous Yew Tree investigations, Myers has conjured up a cast of emotionally damaged characters across the spectrum, with blood chilling moments of revelation, that will haunt your dreams. His use of the brooding bleakness of his Dales’ setting works perfectly in tandem with the very real and flawed characters that he presents to us, shifting our empathy back and forth with each twist and turn in his perfectly plotted drama. Although, I felt that the plot was just a little too extended towards the final third of the plot, at odds with the brevity and sharpness of his writing, I would still highly recommend this to the more stout hearted amongst you. I felt grubby after reading it, but in a wickedly enjoyable way. Excellent.

waking-lions-front-647x1024Next up is Waking Lions from Ayelet Gundar-Goshen billed as a novel with a psychological edge set in Israel centring on the fall out of a hit and run incident, where a privileged doctor, Dr Eitan Green, kills an Eritrean migrant. The book then revolves around his intense involvement, and developing relationship with, the migrant’s widow, and his entry into a world of the desperate and the poor, as she blackmails him into providing medical assistance for the unseen migrant community. Indeed, Gundar-Goshen’s portrayal of Sirkit, and the revelations of her migrant experience were incredibly vivid and compelling, and added a huge emotional weight and interest to the book.  As much as I liked the central premise for the book, I did find it incredibly slow moving, and truth be told, felt no particular empathy for the flaky Dr Green, even when the scales fall from his eyes, and he starts to lose some of his prejudices. His wife, who just happens to be a detective investigating the hit and run, bears little plausible resemblance to a real police officer, and was frankly quite annoying, so this was a real mixed bag for me.

murderabilia-9781471156595_hrBack onto familiar ground with Murderabilia by Craig Robertson, and regular visitors will know I’m an ardent fan of Robertson’s series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police scene of crime photographer, Tony Winter. Finding herself house-bound and therefore bored witless, Narey becomes immersed in the dark and disturbing world of the Dark Net, following a truly grim murder at the opening of the book (fabulously done), which she is anxious to investigate from the confines of her bedroom, and its link to a cold case which her father worked on many years previously. Focussing on the trade in macabre items associated with murder scenes, Narey, and us as readers, are introduced into a world, that its hard to fathom exists, beneath the everyday familiarity of the internet. This book felt slightly different in style to previous books, in terms of the emotional tension that Robertson layers in to the plot, as the darkness of the central storyline,  the emotional turbulence of Narey’s confinement, and other traumatising events (that I won’t reveal here) all come to a nerve shredding conclusion. Packed full of what no doubt was quite disturbing research, Murderabilia also effectively develops the enforced changes in Narey and Winter’s relationship, but also sees another regular character disappear in distressing circumstances. A one sitting read, and another winner from Robertson. Recommended.


I absolutely loved this debut- Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker– and from the rather humdrum synopsis on the back of the book, I have an awful feeling that the casual browser may miss out on a rare treat. Missing child from small American town, and seemingly cardboard cut out characters, did not really sell it to me from the jacket alone. But what a delight this was, revealing itself as a brilliant cross between Twin Peaks and Fargo, and with some beautifully paced reveals that definitely caught this reader on the hop. It made me smile wryly, laugh out loud and gasp in appreciation throughout, with a colourful cast of characters that Whitaker introduces and pivots between seamlessly, slowly drawing us into the connections between them. There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommended.

honourableAnd finally, An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich, a Cold War thriller set in 1950’s Washington, where a disillusioned CIA officer embarks on his final case tracking down a notorious American/Soviet double agent. Sharing the name George Mueller, with my favourite character in Boardwalk Empire played by the wonderfully hangdog Nelson Van Alden, was a distraction from the start, and to be honest, although I fair whipped through this one, I didn’t really feel that it brought anything new to a well-trod genre. I did enjoy the wonderfully dispassionate writing style and clipped dialogue that Vidich employs, but found the reveals a little obvious, and less well-disguised than the clever narrative tricks of say John Le Carre, the master of the Cold War thriller. An interesting distraction but not quite satisfying enough.

Raven’s Book(s) of The Month:

510-vjvl8ql      tall-oaks     constant

After much rumination, I will go for a three-way split this month between Thomas Mullen‘s Darktown, set in 1940’s Atlanta, with its brooding racial tension, the sheer entertainment factor of Chris Whitaker‘s Tall Oaks and William Ryan‘s elegiac and beautifully written wartime drama The Constant Soldier. A round of applause chaps- well deserved.


(With thanks to Faber, Simon & Schuster, Mantle, Pushkin Press, Twenty7, Penguin, Little Brown and No Exit Press for the ARCs)








Blog Tour- Mark Hill- The Two O’Clock Boy- Exclusive Extract

51pljceuoulDiscover the gripping, twist-filled start to a fantastic new London-set crime thriller series starring morally corrupt DI Ray Drake from debut author Mark Hill. The Raven guarantees that this synopsis and exclusive extract will get your crime tingles tingling. Trust me…

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home was burned to the ground. 
Now a killer calling himself the Two O’Clock Boy is hunting all those who grew up there.  
DI Ray Drake will do whatever it takes to stop the murders. 
But he will go even further to bury the secrets hidden since the night of the fire… 


The English Channel, 1986
The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them.

Perched on the edge of the bunk, he listened to them now. To the squeak of their soles on the deck above as they threw recriminations back and forth in voices as vicious as the screeching seagulls wheeling in the sky. He heard the crack of the sail in the wind, the smack of the water against the hull inches from his head, a soothing, hypnotic rhythm.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

Before everything went wrong, before the boy went away as one person and came back as someone different, they had been full of gentle caresses and soft words for each other. But they argued all the time now, his parents – too stridently, loud enough for him to hear – and the quarrel was always about the same thing: what could be done about their unhappy son?

He understood that they wanted him to know how remorseful they were about what had happened. But their misery only made him feel worse. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to speak to them, to utter a single word, and the longer he stayed silent the more his parents fought. The boy plugged his fingers into his ears, closed his eyes, and listened to the dull roar within him.

His love for them was untethering, drifting away on a fierce tide.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

A muffled voice. ‘Darling.’

The boy’s hands were pulled gently from his face. His mother crouched before him. Her eyes were rimmed red, and her hair was plastered to her face by sea spray, but she was still startlingly beautiful.

‘Why don’t you come up top?’

Her cold fingers tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his ear. For a brief moment he felt a familiar tenderness, wanted to clasp her to him and ignore the bitter thoughts that churned in his head. But he didn’t, he couldn’t. It had been weeks since he’d been able to speak.

A shadow fell across the hatch. His father’s voice boomed, ‘Is he coming up?’

‘Please, let me handle this,’ his mother barked over her shoulder, and after a moment of hesitation, the shadow disappeared.

‘We’re doing the best we can.’ She waited for her son to speak. ‘But you must tell us how you feel, so that we can help you.’

The boy managed a small nod, and hope flickered in his mother’s gaze.

‘Your father and I . . . we love you more than anything. If we argue it’s because we can never forgive ourselves for what happened to you. You know that, don’t you?’

Her eyes filled with tears, and he would do anything to stop her from crying. In a cracked voice, barely more than a whisper, he heard himself say, ‘I love you.’

His mother’s hand flew to her mouth. She stood, hunched in the cabin. ‘We’re about to eat sandwiches.’

Moving to the steps, she spoke brightly, but her voice trembled.

‘Why don’t you come up when you’re ready?’

He nodded. With a last, eager smile, his mother climbed to the hatch and her body was consumed by sunlight.

The boy’s heel thudded against the clasp of the toolbox beneath his berth. He pulled out the metal box and tipped open the lid to reveal his father’s tools. Rasps, pliers, a spirit level. Tacks and nails, a chisel slick with grease. Lifting the top tray, the heavier tools were revealed: a saw, a screwdriver, a peen hammer. The varnish on the handle of the hammer was worn away. The wood was rough, its mottled head pounded to a dull grey. He lifted it, felt its weight in his palm.

Clenching the hammer in his fist, he stooped beneath the bulkhead – in the last couple of years he’d grown so much taller – to listen to the clink of plastic plates, his parents’ animated voices on the deck.

‘Sandwiches are ready!’ called his mother.

Every night he had the same dream, like a terrible premonition: his parents passed him on the street without a glance, as if they were total strangers. Sooner or later, he knew, this nightmare would become a reality. The resentment they felt that their child had gone for ever, replaced by somebody else, someone ugly inside, would chip away at their love for him. Until there was nothing left.

And he was afraid that his own fierce love for them was slowly rotting, corroded by blame and bitterness. One day, when it was gone completely, other emotions would fill the desolate space inside him. Fury, rage. A cold, implacable hatred. Already he felt anger swelling like a storm where his love had been. He couldn’t bear to hate them, yearned to keep his love for his parents – and his memories of a happy time before he went to that place – uncorrupted, and to carry it with him into an uncertain future.

And so he had to act.

Gripping the hammer, the boy moved towards the hatch. His view filled with the blinding grey of the sky and the blur of the wheeling gulls, which screamed a warning to him that this world would always snatch from him the things he cherished, that life would always be this way. He stepped onto the windblown deck in the middle of a sea that went on for ever.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . .



Blog Tour- Thomas Mullen- Darktown


Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.

On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement. When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

For many years I’ve been recommending Thomas Mullen’s The Many Deaths of The Firefly Brothers as a great American novel set during the Depression era, with its compelling period detail and a couple of superb protagonists in the guise of notorious bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson. On the strength of this, I was keen as mustard to read Mullen’s Darktown, set in the racially charged era of 1940’s Atlanta…

I will quite honestly say that I was held in Darktown’s thrall from start to finish, and felt genuinely engaged with the essence of the period, Mullen’s bold and engaging characterisation, and the compelling plotline which gravitated between claustrophobic tension and heartfelt emotion throughout. Being so firmly rooted within the conflict and racial tension of this period, the language and terms used completely reflect the era, and with our modern day sensibilities there is a slight uneasiness at the language used. However, being so much of its time, and as a testament to the weight of dignity he throws behind his maligned black characters, and the white protagonists, some sympathetic, some hostile, the rhythm, vernacular and cadence of the language used plays an essential role in the book. The depth of Mullen’s historical research shines through from the references to the inherently unjust limitations placed upon black citizens not only in their segregation from whites, but also the lack of legal redress available to them. This is mirrored in the very strict restrictions placed upon his black police officers, Boggs and Smith, as to how they conduct their police business, and the added layer of scrutiny and danger that they have to operate within. Likewise, the impunity that white police officers such as Dunlow operate under is sharply at odds with the black officer’s experience, and gives the crooked Dunlow a very long leash from which to pursue his corrupt ways.  Mullen traverses a significant amount of individual black and white experience across different realms of society throughout the book, from a lowly farmer to the higher echelons of political power, and with the distinctive backdrop of the racially and socially divided Atlanta as his backdrop, the depth and realism of his chosen period is perfectly integrated throughout.

The characterisation throughout the book is never less than perfect, with all of the main protagonists, as well as lesser characters having sharply drawn edges, and more importantly, being absolutely believable in their depiction, Consequently, such is the level of emotional engagement with them as a reader, you are completely drawn into their individual stories of bravery, certitude, honour or corruption throughout. Mullen depicts beautifully their moments of doubt, the battle to retain their moral centre when pushed to the limit by injustice and racism, or the depths of depravity that wearing a police badge or holding a position of power can reveal in those that society has deigned to be above all others. The moral integrity of both black officer, Boggs, and white officer Rakestraw, operating from both sides of the racial divide is explored throughout. It was extremely gratifying to see that although this is a book firmly rooted in the differences between black and white experience both figuratively and racially that Mullen avoids plummeting his characters into overly moralistic tropes. Instead he leaves area of grey where we witness as readers bad people doing bad things, and good people being driven to bad actions navigating their way through the tinderbox flashpoints that racial division stirs up, and can then draw our own conclusions on the veracity of their actions.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed, and at times with its exploration of racial divide in America, made this reader ponder how far American society has really progressed when looking at these issues with a contemporary eye. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to  Little Brown for the ARC)


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Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- A Deadly Thaw


Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

You know that old adage about the difficult second book? Well, come closer and I’ll let you into a secret. Following Sarah Ward’s compelling debut  In Bitter Chill I’m going to boldly state that this one is even better. There, I’ve said it. Gauntlet thrown down for those foolish enough to challenge me. From the very outset I was completely hooked by this dark, suspenseful tale of Derbyshire folk, so read on and find out why…

What Ward achieves so well in this book is a perfect symmetry between the strength of her plotting and her razor sharp characterisation. The basic twist in the story upon which the whole book is played out is devilishly good, and as a long time crime reader provided a very unique and intriguing premise for a story. Woman reports husband dead. Woman convicted of his murder. Fourteen years later husband turns up dead. Again. Who was the original dead man? Brilliant. As Ward takes us on a darkly disturbing journey between the two timelines of the story, some nasty secrets centring on a string of local sex attacks come to light, flicking on the reader’s empathy switch, and completely immersing us on the dark history that comes to be revealed. Ward’s control of pace and reveal is perfectly realised throughout. With the branching out of other stories focussing on the particular personal relationships of her cast of protagonists, and a frighteningly familiar tale of police incompetence and the lack of sympathy to female victims of crime,  this book adroitly raises these serious issues throughout, but never to the detriment of this being a tautly played out thriller.

Once again, this is an extremely character driven book, and I liked the reprise of the police characters from the first book- DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damien Palmer and the wonderfully feisty DC Connie Childs- and the professional and personal interactions between them. Sadler is still firmly and solidly at the helm, and I liked the way that both Palmer and Childs sometimes resemble recalcitrant teenagers as their personal relationship takes a different turn in this book, and they continue to vie for the professional affection of their boss. There is also a strong cast around them from their under pressure senior commanding officer, Superintendent Dai Llewellyn, gruff pathologist Bill Shields and his assistant Scott, which really shores up the forensic and procedural accuracy of the book as past mistakes rear their ugly head. Equally, Ward carefully explores the sibling relationship between Lena and Kat Gray, and the tensions that arise from the aura of suspected guilt within their family dynamic, and the dangerous ramifications this holds for them both.  Ward again sensitively depicts the fear and emotional vulnerability of Lena as a person in the light of her traumatic experience, balancing this with the turbulent effect that her actions have caused in her sister’s life too, which is a real lynchpin in our engagement as a reader with them.

Great plotting, superb characterisation, the exploration of important issues, and perfectly placed moments of snappy humour make this book a perfect pick up and read. Highly recommended.

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the  Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrward1

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

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